Salvation 2.0: Part 7.7: The strange case of Hymenaeus and Philetus

grace5Commentators have long puzzled over these odd passages —

(1Ti 1:18-20 ESV)  This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare,  19 holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith,  20 among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.

(2Ti 2:16-18 ESV) 16 But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness,  17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus,  18 who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some.

That’s all we know, except that these false teachers had left the true faith, been disciplined in some sense by Paul, and appear to be lost for having taught that the resurrection has already happened.

What precisely is meant is unclear, but most infer a teaching that there was no future resurrection to look forward to (cf. 1 Cor 15:12). In this view, believers already shared in Christ’s resurrection, and nothing more need be achieved so far as salvation was concerned. They already had resurrection life and would not die (cf. John 11:26). If that is the case, we may further infer that Hymenaeus and Philetus set salvation and creation in antithesis (cf. 1 Tim 4:3), that salvation was seen as an escape from the body and from the material world, a denial that the created order would also participate in salvation (as Paul had taught, Rom 8:19–21). Whatever the precise teaching in view, the writer was convinced that in propounding it Hymenaeus and Philetus had “missed the mark, deviated from the truth” (ἀστοχέω astocheō; the same word as in 1 Tim 1:6; 6:21) and were “overturning, upsetting [as in Titus 1:11] the faith of some.”

James D.G. Dunn, “The Letters to Timothy and the Letter to Titus,” in 2 Corinthians-Philemon (vol. 11 of New Interpreters Bible, Accordance electronic ed. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000), n.p.

Evidently, the false teaching was similar to the error Paul confronted in 1 Cor 15, in which Paul teaches a future, general, bodily resurrection. Most likely, because the Greeks especially found the idea of a bodily resurrection absurd, the error crept in that our baptism is the only resurrection that matters. The teaching would thus be similar to what the Sadducees taught — denying an afterlife and declaring that God’s blessings are received, if at all, in this life only.

But this, again, denies faith in God’s promises. It destroys hope. And it’s a damning error.

It doesn’t damn because it’s just one of millions of possible misunderstandings. It damns because it threatens the very heart of Christian teaching. After all, as we’ve already seen, the Kingdom won’t come in its fullness until the return of Jesus. Our salvation is measured in terms of how God will judge us when Jesus returns. And all this is tied to the idea of a general resurrection in which God’s people will be judged worthy and live in the new heavens and new earth forever.

Take away the general resurrection, then there’s no afterlife, there’s no inheritance for God’s people, there’s no fully realized Kingdom, there’s no hope. And, most importantly, we’ve concluded that God’s promises can’t be trusted.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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20 Responses to Salvation 2.0: Part 7.7: The strange case of Hymenaeus and Philetus

  1. Gary says:

    It’s important to remember that OT saints before Daniel had no concept of life after death as Christians do today. Sheol was a shadowy after life state that hardly could be called life. Jay, I assume you had Dr. Clyde Miller at Lipscomb for some OT courses just as I did. He was a careful scholar and definitely not liberal. He had done his doctoral work at Hebrew Union in Cincinnati which primarily trained rabbis. Dr. Miller was quite firm in his conclusion that there is no evidence in the OT of a belief in life after death before Daniel.

    That means that almost all of the great OT saints, Abraham, Samuel, David, etc. lived their earthly lives without any concept of life after death as we have today. So it does not follow that an erroneous belief about the resurrection damns. You and I agree that erroneous beliefs about baptism do not damn. I think we’re on shaky ground to draw doctrinal lines that say you can be wrong in this belief and be saved but if you get that one wrong you’re damned. We know that many priests, who were overwhelmingly Sadducees, became Christians in the early days of the church. It is unlikely that they all left behind immediately their Sadducee beliefs at their baptisms.

    Dunn aside, we really don’t know what false doctrine Hymenaeus and Philetus were teaching. Whatever it was they were evidently teaching it perhaps in a divisive way. We’re not dealing with a simple belief they held. It’s a huge and unwarranted jump to use the reference to them as proving that all who don’t hold an orthodox belief about the resurrection are lost.

  2. Gary says:

    I should have awakened a little more before responding! I was confusing Hymenaeus and Alexander with Hymenaeus and Philetus when I said that we don’t know what Hymenaeus and Philetus were teaching. Obviously we do. Hymenaeus and Philetus were teaching that the resurrection was past. I still think it’s a huge and unwarranted jump to use them to prove that a misguided misunderstanding of the resurrection by itself is damning. Hymenaeus and Philetus were actively damaging the faith of others.

    Also, the text does not at all suggest to me that Hymenaeus and Philetus were lost. We know that Job was delivered to Satan for punishment for a time despite his righteousness but he was never lost. Hymenaeus and Philetus were a long way from the stature of Job to be sure but the language suggests a temporary time of chastisement or suffering administered by Satan rather than a sentence of eternal damnation or annihilation.

  3. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    We know,

    Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme

    My thinking is —

    1. “Handed over to Satan” is the same phrase as in 1 Cor 5:5, and is therefore a reference to disfellowship.

    2. Because the goal is to teach them not to blaspheme, the goal is repentance.

    3. Discipline based on doctrinal error is only appropriately exercised for salvation-threatening teaching. Not all disagreements justify church discipline, but a teaching that could cause either the teacher or their followers to be damned if persisted in justifies such a measure. Discipline is also appropriate for threats to the unity of the church — but these are almost always a subset of the first. That is, we almost always divide because we refuse to believe God’s promises to save — esp. as applied to others. But Paul says nothing here about being divisive.

    4. The particular sin applicable to Hymenaeus and Alexander is blasphemy, that is, speaking ill of God. In context, that sure seems to mean that they were denying the future general resurrection. I don’t know of anyone within Christendom who denies the general resurrection today. But it was obviously a problem in Paul’s time, as shown by his need to write 1 Cor 15 and the Sadducees’ denial of the resurrection. The Greeks generally scoffed at the idea of a resurrection.

    5. Therefore, denial of the general resurrection is a false teaching that, with refusal to repent, merits disfellowship — making it potentially damning. What else justifies disfellowshipping someone? You could argue that it’s their divisiveness regarding their teaching, not the teaching itself, but Paul says he did it to teach them not to blaspheme — speak ill of God — not to teach them to be less divisive.

    6. In 2 Tim 2:18, Paul says that Hymenaeus and Philetus had “swerved from the truth.” “Truth” in the NT refers to the gospel. Again, departure from the gospel implies jeopardy of damnation.

    2 Tim 2:16 refers to them as an example of “ungodliness” — not unlike “blasphemy.” And exactly the sort of word Paul would use of someone in danger of damnation. See Rom 1:18; 11:26, etc. In the LXX and elsewhere in the NT, the word refers to those separated from God.

    I, of course, agree that they were also upsetting the faith of others (2 Tim 2:18), and “faith” refers to the faith in Jesus that saves, not doctrinal orthodoxy more broadly. Paul compares their teaching to “gangrene,” which in the First Century — before antibiotics — inevitably meant amputation or death. It’s a strong metaphor for destruction that cannot be reversed. It’s not just unhealthy. It’s life-threatening — and a particularly horrible disease in that age.

    Now, I agree that the early pages of the OT do not teach a resurrection. This is found most plainly in Daniel.

    But after the resurrection of Jesus, the promise of the general resurrection was considered of the essence —

    (1 Cor 15:13–14 ESV) 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.

    So it does all fit. If these men were denying the resurrection of the dead — which would have been a Greek position — then they were producing a vain faith and nullifying the preaching of the gospel.

    On the other hand, I would agree that disagreement as to the precise nature of the resurrection should not be considered damning. It’s not that we have to get all the particulars exactly right.

  4. Monty says:

    Not sure how the OT heroes of faith could not have been given some concept of life after death if the home they were looking for was a “heavenly city.” They considered themselves “pilgrims” looking for a heavenly country to call home. That says nothing about the depth of their understanding other than it was enough to sustain them based on God’s promises.

  5. Gary says:

    Jay, I just reread Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 on the day Christ’s church began and I can find no reference to a future general resurrection. We know there was a great division among the Jews about life after death. It’s hardly possible that not one out of 3,000 who were baptized on Pentecost held to the Sadducee position that there is no life after death. No one would have learned about a future general resurrection from Peter on that day. (Yes, many other words were spoken by Peter that day but if you can posit a future general resurrection then a CoC conservative can posit instruction on a capella singing.) If belief in a future general resurrection was not essential for salvation for the 3,000 on Pentecost when did it become essential for salvation?

    I’ve long believed that if a belief is not essential for a believer in Christ to receive a valid baptism then it does not become essential for salvation at a future date. It may be desirable for Christian growth and maturity but it is not a salvation issue. We have no right to refuse Christian felowship to anyone who confesses that Jesus is the Christ the son of the living God. Even Paul could not add to the Gospel. The Gospel requires belief in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead but it does not require belief in a future general resurrection.

    By the way, this issue is relevant to Churches of Christ. A few Churches of Christ hold to the belief that Christ’s second coming occurred in AD 70 and that there will be no future bodily resurrection. A very dear preacher friend of mine who is now deceased believed that with all his heart. I tried a number of times to reason with him and always thought he was as wrong as he could be about it. But it had never occurred to me that anyone would consider him to be lost on that account.

    Many CoC conservatives had what they considered to be sound and logical reasoning proving how almost everyone but them was lost. I remember Thomas Warren and his endless syllogisms. You’re a long, long way from Thomas Warren of course but it concerns me how you can be so sure about what causes Christians to lose their salvation. Hymenaeus and Philetus were delivered to Satan “until” they learned not to blaspheme. The writer seems, clearly to me, to anticipate that the time they were to be delivered to Satan was limited.

  6. Dwight says:

    Resurrection appears to be a problem in many ways to the early saints. Many were denying that Christ was resurrected and then others were arguing that a resurrection had already happened on some general level. But in both cases they result in no hope. If Jesus was still dead, then no hope and if the saved were resurrected, then no hope for those who were left. These teachings were sidelining the faith and hope of those who relied on Jesus as the savior.
    “some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.”
    IF they were shipwrecked, then they were on the rocks and already smashed, if turned over to satan, then were in his camp, they would not know how damning they were if they had not realized where they were in relation to God. The lesson they were to learn after being handed over to satan was not to blaspheme more than they were already.
    The talk of “Hymenaeus and Philetus” were leading others to “unGodliness” and what was it said of those who turned people away from the truth “it would be worse for them than that they never would have been born.”
    A common name here is “Hymenaeus” and he appears to be a major player in spreading many untruths that were causing others to turn from God and to lose their faith and hope.
    I would not want to be mentioned in relation to him.

  7. Price says:

    …”That they may LEARN not to blaspheme”… What would be the point of a punishment if redemption weren’t in mind ? Paul had the guy who was having a relationship with his father’s wife kicked out of the assembly but only temporarily… This discussion jumped quickly to the “slippery slope into hell” rather than seeing a possible “time out” placed on them by God. You don’t shoot your child in the head for misunderstanding your instructions or even for arguing with you about them.. you might issue a curfew or restriction but you don’t shoot them in the head. Let’s give God some credit for being a loving God who unfortunately had to take some of His kids to the woodshed rather than just looking to damn someone to hell…

  8. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    I don’t think Acts 2 supports your argument as well as you say.

    (Acts 2:29-32 ESV) 29 “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, 31 he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.”

    Peter preached the “resurrection” of Jesus Messiah. “Resurrection” was a term of art, that is, it referred to a bodily resurrection such as was then taught by the rabbis and most Jewish sects other than the Sadducees. It did not refer to a mere resuscitation but to Daniel’s prophecy —

    (Dan. 12:2-3 ESV) 2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

    Compare —

    (Rom. 10:8-9 ESV) 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

    So, among the Jews present at Pentecost, there would have been two views regarding resurrection: (1) the view of the Sadducees, that there is no resurrection at all and (2) the more common view of the Pharisees and most other Jews that there will be a general resurrection as promised in Daniel. The declaration that Jesus was “resurrected” denies (1) and adopts (2).

    I take considerable comfort in the fact that NT Wright reads these passages as I do, although I just now looked up Wright’s position. That is, Wright reads Paul as saying that the denial of the general resurrection is damning.

    The best explanation of what Hymenaeus and Philetus were teaching is that they were pioneering a view which, as we shall see, was to become popular in other circles in due course, according to which ‘the resurrection’ was now to be interpreted, not in terms of a future bodily hope after death, but purely and simply in terms of a spiritual experience which could be enjoyed during the present life. Certain people had had this experience; they were already, in this new metaphorical sense, ‘raised from the dead’. It is not clear whether the two were encouraging others to have this experience as well, or whether the point of their teaching was that if one was not already among those favoured in this way there was now no hope. One way or another, they were drawing people away from what was being seen as mainstream Christian hope.

    What is especially interesting is the answer the writer provides in verse 19, in the form of two biblical quotations. Numbers 16:5 (‘YHWH knows those who are his!’) comes from the chapter which describes the rebellion of Korah, and particularly of Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab (a grandson of Reuben). The phrase quoted here is Moses’ comment when faced with rebellion; YHWH will show whether Moses and Aaron have arrogated to themselves their positions of leadership, or whether they hold them in virtue of God’s appointment. The further specific rebellion of Dathan and Abiram is to deny that the hope of a land flowing with milk and honey will ever come true. On the next day, the answer comes: Korah, Dathan, Abiram and their families are separated from the rest of the Israelites, and Moses declares that if they go on to die a natural death, then YHWH has not sent him, but that if YHWH creates something new, namely, an instant death in which the ground opens up and swallows them so that they go down alive into Sheol, then it will be clear that the rebels are the ones who have despised YHWH. And so it happens.

    There are many resonances between this story and the situation that seems to be addressed in 2 Timothy 2. Hymenaeus and Philetus may be seen as rebels, challenging the authority of the appointed leaders of the church, though this is not said specifically. What they are doing, more particularly, is challenging the future hope, as Dathan and Abiram challenged the promise of the land. And whereas the promise of resurrection is that God will do a new thing, out beyond what anyone could have expected, the punishment of Dathan and Abiram consisted of God doing a new thing in terms of judgment, different to what had happened to anyone else before. How much of all this was in the writer’s mind is of course impossible to say; it seems to me highly likely that some of it was. The upshot is not unlike the rabbis’ retort to the Sadducees: if you don‘t believe in resurrection, you won’t share it. The writer of 2 Timothy is warning that God will make it clear, in a future act of judgment, who belongs to him and who does not; in other words, which is the true teaching and which is not.

    The second biblical quotation is less clear (‘Let those who name the name of the lord depart from iniquity’). It appears to be a combination of two passages: Sirach 17:26 (‘return to the Most High and turn away from iniquity’), and Isaiah 26:13 (‘O YHWH our God, other lords besides you have ruled over us, but we name your name alone’). Both passages are about what happens after death. Sirach, of course, believes that nothing happens: the next two verses declare that nobody sings praise to the Most High in Hades, and that thanksgiving ceases once people are dead. Is the writer of 2 Timothy aware of this, and perhaps warning Hymenaeus and Philetus of the fate in store if they say the resurrection is already past? The likelihood of this is increased by the context of Isaiah 26:13: there, the verse immediately following insists that those who are punished by YHWH have no chance of a future life, while verse 19, famously, proclaims: ‘Your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise!’ Second Timothy 2:19 appears to draw together in, dare we say, an almost Pauline density passages which, taken together, declare that Hymenaeus and Philetus are indeed wrong, and that the future judgment and resurrection which they deny will be the final evidence against them.

    N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God, (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2003), 267–269.

    However, there is an in-between position. Paul’s point could be that denying the general resurrection damns, not that believing in the general resurrection is essential salvation. That is, a new convert might have no position at all on the question, being entirely unaware of the issue — and yet believe that Jesus is Messiah and LORD.

    Paul insists in Rom 10:9 that a new convert should believe that Jesus has been raised from the dead.

    Consider, for example,

    (1 Jn. 4:2-3 ESV) 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.

    Neither Peter’s Great Confession nor Paul’s Rom 10:9 speak directly to Jesus having come in the flesh, although it would seem implicit in believing him raised from the dead. But our traditional use of Peter’s Great Confession really doesn’t address the question — and yet John says we must believe that Jesus came in the flesh to be “from God.”

    But the context in 1 John is whether certain teachers should be listened to — not who is and isn’t saved. That is, John holds teachers to a higher standard. Anyone claiming to be a teacher from God must get the incarnation question right. But that doesn’t make it part of our baptismal confession.

    Just so, it could be that Paul holds Hymenaeus and company to a higher standard, as they are supposed teachers of the gospel. Teachers are not allowed to deny the general resurrection whereas a new convert should be taught the general resurrection but doesn’t have to confess belief in the general resurrection to be saved. Something like that.

    After all, there are many teachings implicit in what we confess that a new convert may not have thought through. “Jesus is LORD” implies some understanding of who God is and that Jesus is divine in the same sense. But “Jesus has been resurrected” implies that he was human and could die like the rest of us. Sorting through the paradox is the stuff for scholars. A new convert may well not know how to reconcile the two truths, but may nonetheless believe both to be true.

    However, if a teacher insists on modalism or any number of other false ways to resolve the paradox, he may be a very dangerous teacher indeed and merit church discipline so that he stops endangering the faith of others. Hence, if he insists on the Gnostic position, that Jesus did not come in the flesh, he is endangering not only his own soul but that of others.

    But I’m open to suggestions. I am always uncomfortable making a list of things that must be believed to be saved, given the brevity of the confessions we find the Bible. But those confessions sometimes assume an existing worldview that doesn’t deny essential teachings.

    It’s a challenging question.

  9. David says:

    Paul’s discussion of Abraham’s faith in Romans 4 included the belief that God “is the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not, as though they were”. It seems to me that the very reason we are to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, is so that we will also believe that Jesus has the power to have us raised from the dead. Otherwise, Jesus being the Son of God, becomes almost meaningless.

  10. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    Very interesting …

    First, I entirely agree without believe in the general resurrection, our faith is vain. Paul says so in —

    (1 Cor. 15:12-14 ESV) 12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.

    I suppose someone could believe that Jesus has been resurrected while denying that his followers will be — but if so, as you say, what’s the point of Christianity?

    Then again, we might take a pre-Daniel view and think solely in terms of God giving us blessings in this life, as he promised in the Torah. But that was a national covenant with a theocracy, a nation-state. The church is not that. The promises we have in the new covenant are the old promises transformed in light of the resurrection of Jesus. Our inheritance is not just the Promised Land, but the entire earth, to be made new by God, for example.

    (Rom. 4:16-17 ESV) 16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring– not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”– in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

    Paul immediately describes Abraham’s faith in God’s ability to give him a child. The argument seems to be: If God can make the heavens and the earth, then he can keep his promises, including the promise to give Abraham a son at his and Sarah’s old age.

  11. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    I can’t find the comment, but someone asked me about the meaning of “faith” in Heb 11 in light of the need to believe in the general resurrection.

    It’s also true that we must have faith in Jesus of Nazareth to be saved, now, but the OT believers did not have this requirement because Jesus had not yet been revealed. They believed in a Messiah to be revealed. We believe in the revealed Messiah.

    Just so, the resurrection was not revealed until late in Jewish history, and so it wasn’t a requirement prior to being revealed.

    The earliest clear reference to the resurrection is likely —

    (Isa. 26:19 ESV) 19 Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead.

    The revelation is even clearer in —

    (Dan. 12:2-3 ESV) 2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

    You can see the echoes of Isaiah in Daniel.

  12. Larry Cheek says:

    Sure sounds like the message you are looking at is culminated in these.
    Joh 5:24-29 ESV Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (25) “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. (26) For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. (27) And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. (28) Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice (29) and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.
    If an individual would believe that this has already been completed, how could they justify living here? Would not every human be included within one of these categories?

  13. Monty says:


    How would you explain Hebrews 11 where Abraham, and sounds like the others, listed were looking for a heavenly city, to call home, if they had no concept of some part of them living again, even after death? Abraham reasoned God could raise Isaac back to life after he slew him.

  14. Dwight says:

    I believe that I Cor.15 isn’t talking about the general resurrection, but the resurrection that had happened to Jesus and to possibly others who were within their vicinity. According to the scriptures Lazerus was raised and then many came out of their tombs when Jesus died. But the biggest issue was if resurrection was not possible, then Jesus was not raised and not living. And the other big issue was that if man couldn’t be resurrected in at least some form, then the where is the hope of seeing heaven or anything else for that fact. It all ties together in that if there is no resurrection then hope in Jesus and hope in a reward is void.

  15. Alan S. says:

    Jay, I wonder how this aligns with the AD70 folks who generally teach that Jesus already returned back in AD70 during the fall or Jerusalem. I have heard some teach the resurrection of the dead happened back then.

  16. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Monty asked,

    How would you explain Hebrews 11 where Abraham, and sounds like the others, listed were looking for a heavenly city, to call home, if they had no concept of some part of them living again, even after death? Abraham reasoned God could raise Isaac back to life after he slew him.

    Most commentaries avoid the question. This is from the NICNT —

    What was the secret of Abraham’s patience? This, says our author: the commonwealth on which his hopes were fixed was no transient commonwealth of this temporal order. He was looking for a city of a different kind: the city with the eternal foundations, planned and built by God.86 Just as the true rest of God is not the earthly Canaan into which the first Joshua led the people of Israel (Heb. 4:8), so Abraham kept his eyes fixed on the well-established city of God which was to be revealed in the time of fulfilment.
    Here certainly our author may be said to allegorize—to discern in the promise to Abraham that the earthly Canaan would be his and his descendants’ an underlying promise of a richer and eternal inheritance. With his statement that Abraham looked for “the city with firm foundations” (NEB) we may compare Philo’s description of the land which God promised to give Abraham as “a city good and wide and very prosperous, for the gifts of God are very great.”87 To Philo this city is the abode of the individual soul which spends its time in the contemplation of the universe and cultivation of the knowledge of God; it is the natural habitat of the true philosopher. To our author it is the heavenly Jerusalem, the commonwealth of God in the spiritual and eternal order, now effectively made accessible by the completion of Christ’s high-priestly work, so that all the men and women of faith come to be enrolled there as free citizens. In Philo’s treatment not only the promised land but Abraham himself is allegorized; our author is content to treat Abraham and all the others listed in this catalogue as real historical characters from whose experience later generations can learn. Nor was his insight at fault in discerning in the promise to Abraham something more abiding than the fairest earthly possession. To those who place their trust in him God gives possessions of real and incorruptible value. Since, in our Lord’s words, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob “live to him” (Luke 20:38), their true heritage must be based in the being of God; if the New Testament writers are not misguided in portraying them as the ancestors of the family of faith, their essential blessings must be of the same order as the blessings enjoyed by their spiritual children under the new covenant. “The Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to Mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man. Wherefore they are not to be heard, which feign that the old Fathers did look only for transitory promises …”

    F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, Rev. ed., (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 292–294.

    The words translated “architect” and “builder” are very similar in meaning. “Architect” could be used for the “designer” who planned a building project; “builder,” for one who completed it. By using both the pastor insists that this city is permanent and superior because from conception to completion it is the work of God. These two words would hardly have been appropriate if the pastor had wished to describe God as the source of some “heavenly” noumenal world of ideas. In fact, both were used in Hellenistic Judaism to describe him as the creator of the physical universe.20 This God-established “City” is a true “place” (v. 8). It is, in fact, identical to the “rest” that God has prepared for his people (4:1). Thus, we may assume, on the basis of 4:3–6, that it was established by God on the seventh day of creation. It is his own “rest” that already exists and that he has intended from the beginning for his people to share. It will be revealed at the Judgment as an “Unshakable Kingdom” when all that is merely temporal passes away (12:25–29). In fact, since the coming of Christ the faithful, both living and dead, have preliminary access to this City (12:22–24). The importance of this pilgrimage is demonstrated by the significance of its destination.

    Gareth Lee Cockerill, The Epistle to the Hebrews, The New International Commentary on the Old and New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2012), 541.

    The answer has to be along these line:

    1. There is a heavenly Jerusalem.
    2. Abraham was promised the Canaan, which included Salem, now Jerusalem. He offered sacrifices there to God before Melchizedek. Hence, God’s literal promise included the literal Jerusalem.
    3. But Abraham would have seen the spiritual reality behind the earthly promises — that the inheritance would be more than the land.

    From here, there two branches the logic might follow:
    Branch 1
    4. Abraham would have surmised a future in heaven because God came from heaven to deal with him and God promised to bless the entire world through Abraham. All nations. And such a promise implied an eternal, heavenly realm.

    Branch 2
    4. The New Jerusalem will descend and be situated on earth, as promised in Rev 21. Therefore, a promise of the Promise Land forever necessarily includes the Promised Land as part of the New Heavens and New Earth – a fully redeemed, cleansed, purified world in which the old Jerusalem becomes joined with the New Jerusalem. Hence, God’s promise of the Promised Land will eventually include the New Jerusalem as heaven and earth are combined. If Abraham knew Gen 1 – 3, then he knew that God’s redemption would involve the recombination of heaven and earth — so that the promise of the land would include God’s presence on earth. After all, God had walked in Canaan land with Abraham, portending a future in which God is always with Abraham’s spiritual descendants in a God-redeemed world.

    That is, if we see Abraham as seeing the world redeemed rather than souls flying off to heaven, it makes much better sense.

    The exposition could use some work, but something like Branch 2 is the best I can do this late at night.

  17. Monty says:


    Thanks for your reply. In reviewing Hebrews 11 again, I find the man Enoch to be a special focal point . Why? He never died, but was translated. Translated to where? That heavenly city where God dwells. So, yes, there had to of been at least a concept of being able to live with God. I believe it was his special case that gave all the rest of the “heroes of faith” hope that man can dwell with God. Of course if they knew the creation story they knew that man and God had once dwelled together before sin. Now, the writer shows how different individuals were approved by God through faith. Faith is what it takes to please God vs.6. If Enoch could bypass death and go to be with God because of his faith, then others could too. If not by bypass death, and go directly there, (in the heavenly city), then after dying they could have the hope of being there. For he that cometh to God must believe that he is and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. What is the reward they were all seeking in chapter 11? Living with God wherever he dwells, in his heavenly land. They weren’t fixed on the here- and-now(as shown specifically by Abraham, the father of faith)which shows a lack of faith in the context of the book. 12:6 “So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do to me.” Fear in the here and now is one thing that shows a lack of faith in God, especially as it pertains to fearing man more than God when it applies to persecution for faith or the lack thereof.

  18. Dwight says:

    People are people. Sometimes we see further out and sometimes we see right in front of us at the most inconvenient times. The Jewish leaders wanted deliverance and while they might have had heaven in the back of their minds, since they were being over run by the Romans, they wanted deliverance from Rome and their place back as an powerful nation. This later is what they desired of God and Jesus, even as Jesus tried to explain that the “real” and worthwhile and accessible kingdom was not earthly, but heavenly. And an earthly man could not access the heavenly realm.
    Enoch was special not because God called him home without Enoch dying, but because Enoch was spiritual in nature on the level of the same spirit as God. One of the best quotes on Enoch was “And as they walked together, they got closer to heaven and God asked Enoch to come home with Him, because Enoch could no longer see his own.”

  19. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    The Enoch theory is a pretty good one. Better than most commentaries suggest. (Most dodge the issue.)

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